Low lying, generally flat or gently undulating land,
crossed by obvious ridges formed by the York and
Escrick glacial moraines.
Underlain by glacial deposits resting on
Triassic sandstone and mudstone and Lower Jurassic
mudstone to the east.
Floodplains of several major rivers notably
the Ouse, the Derwent and the Wharfe, but also the
Ure, Nidd and Foss.
Washland and hay meadows in the river floodplains.
Medium to large sized open fields intensively
cultivated for arable crops, but with some dairy
Low, flailed, intermittent hedges forming
field boundaries with sparse, scattered hedgerow
Scattered small woods, with more extensive
conifer plantations on sandy soils, together creating
an impression of wooded farmland in some areas.
Remnants of heathland commons on sandy soils.
Distinctive character of settlements, especially
the linear villages with buildings set back behind
wide grass verges.
Distinctive mottled brick used in buildings,
combined with pantile roofs.
Scattered, large, brick built farmsteads.
Focus on City of York with roads radiating
from the city and York Minster providing a focal
point visible in views from the surrounding area.
Vale of York is a transitional vale landscape marking
the change from the more varied topography and mixed
farming of the Vale of Mowbray to the north, to
the flat, open levels of the Humberhead Levels to
the south. It is a broad area which is bounded by
the ridge of Magnesian Limestone which rises to
the west, and by the Howardian Hills and the Yorkshire
Wolds to the east. The low ridge of the Escrick
Moraine marks the southern limit and the transition
to the Humberhead Levels, north-east trending.
This is a low lying, mainly flat landscape, though
minor ridges and glacial moraines provide subtle
local variations in topography. There are also frequent
stream courses and drainage channels which link
with the main rivers which cross the vale. The floodplains
of the Ouse, the Derwent, the Ure, the Nidd and
the Fosse create much of this flat landscape.
The soils, formed from glacial till, sand and gravel
are generally fertile and the majority of the land
is in arable use with extensive areas of wheat,
sugar beet and potatoes. Fields are medium to large
size and enclosure is by low, flailed often intermittent
hedges with few hedgerow trees. This gives the landscape
a generally large-scale, open, well tended character
where production is the main emphasis of land management.
Much of the Vale of York is a working agricultural
landscape but the settlement also contributes to
its character. The city of York itself has a dominant
influence and the tower of the Minster is visible
for miles around. But the flat farmland is also
dotted with solid brick farmsteads and there are
numerous large villages of attractive vale character.
They are, in themselves, important features of the
landscape and provide special focuses of interest.
Variations in landscape character come from subtle
changes in soils, topography, and land cover. Low
ridges of sand and gravel, deposited as moraines
or eskers once the glaciers retreated, rise above
the flat plain in places creating a more pronounced
ridge and valley landform. Where there are dry,
sandy soils, especially around York to the north,
east and south, there are remnants of historic heathland
and ancient semi-natural woodlands. Because of the
infertility of these soils many of these areas have
been planted with coniferous woods, usually of Scots
Pine. Examples of these features include Strensall,
Stockton and Allerthorpe Commons. These plantations,
woodlands and heaths give a different character
to these parts of the vale, with the woodland edges
creating a greater feeling of enclosure and forming
wooded horizons. The woodland blocks are often on
a large scale and provide a visual foil to the large
open, arable fields in between.
Elsewhere there are still some tracts of land which
retain a stronger structure of hedges, hedgerow
trees, copses, shelterbelts and small woodlands.
Parkland associated with country houses also occurs
in places and the tree clumps, tree belts, avenues
and associated architectural features all add to
the variety of the landscape. Examples include Rufforth
Hall Park, Beningbrough Hall and Bilton Hall.
with the Vale of Mowbray, to the north, the solid
geology of the Vale of York comprises Triassic sandstone
and mudstone, and Lower Jurassic mudstone, and is
completely cloaked by varied drift deposits. They
include glacial till, which forms a marked bench
in the east, sand and gravel, and both terminal
and recessional moraines left by the ice-sheet.
The York Moraine forms a curving ridge extending
from York eastwards to Sand Hutton; The Escrick
Moraine has a similar trend and lies about 8km to
the south. The northern section of the vale is underlain
by deposits of clay, sand and gravel left by a glacial
lake formed just north of the Humberhead lake as
the ice sheet stagnated. The main rivers and streams
also laid down river alluvium consisting of clay,
silt and sand. These lacustrine and alluvial deposits
provide good loamy soils, while the clays are calcareous
and have sometimes been used for liming other soils.
The glacial till bench along the eastern fringe
of the vale, at the foot of the adjoining Howardian
Hills, creates more varied topography in this area,
and provides a transition to the hills beyond.
and Cultural Influences
seems probable that even before the coming of the
Romans, the drier land in the vale, away from the
river valleys, would have been extensively cleared
for pastoral farming and small scale cropping and
contained some dispersed settlement. The Romans
established a legionary fortress at what was to
become the major Roman centre of Eboracum, now York,
using the higher ground of the York Moraine where
it was directed by the then tidal River Ouse. The
area around was significantly influenced by the
Romans, with evidence of forts and signal stations
as well as roads. Commons, often of a heathy character,
were widespread in the vale and some of these still
survive today on the poor wind blown sandy soils.
Open fields also persisted in some areas until enclosure
in the 18th century. There was, however, quite widespread
enclosure of both common pastures and open fields
before the 18th century. Parliamentary enclosure
completed the process and there was then widespread
improvement of farmland by draining and marling.
In earlier centuries wheat and rye were the main
crops grown, often together on the sand land, and
large areas of grassland also remained. Crops such
as potatoes and carrots were only introduced early
in the 20th century. The Second World War saw a
reduction in livestock and deeper ploughing and
increased use of fertiliser became more apparent.
Since then there has been further progressive intensification
of farming, with only the sand lands being resistant
to improvement because of their tendency to blow,
and their high requirements for fertiliser inputs.
is the main settlement in the Vale and tends to
dominate the area around it, both economically and
physically. It is a magnificent historic city and
all the main roads in the vale radiate from it.
The Minster, built from stone brought from the Southern
'Magnesian Limestone' ridge to the west, is a highly
visible landmark drawing the eye to the city from
many of the outlying areas. The city is expanding
around the fringes and there are also significant
satellite villages like Upper and Nether Poppleton
and Haxby to the north and Bishopthorpe and Copmanthorpe
to the south.
Easingwold is a substantial rural town lying in
the north of the vale and has a distinctive intricate
layout and a fine combination of open spaces, buildings
and landscape features. The villages, like those
in the Vale of Mowbray exhibit the typical linear
vale form of mottled brick houses with pantile roofs
facing each other on either side of a main street.
Wide grass verges and special features like village
greens, ponds, streams and mature trees often combine
with the village church and pub to create a very
attractive whole. Farmsteads are larger here than
in the more northerly Vale of Mowbray, with examples
of the more prosperous agriculture dating from the
nineteenth century. They are built, like most of
the traditional buildings in the vicinity, in the
characteristic mottled bricks with pantile roofs.
Older farmhouses are usually associated with a complex
of large, more modern farm buildings.
land is by far the most prominent land cover throughout
the vale and grass is now relatively infrequent.
This reflects the steady move away from livestock
rearing and dairy farming. There are few flood meadows
left along the river valleys although some still
remain along the Derwent, primarily in its lower
The sand lands support substantial areas of remnant
heaths and semi-natural, often ancient deciduous
woodland, some of which are common land. There are
also large areas of conifer plantation, as well
as small farm woods, shelterbelts and game coverts,
all of which add diversity and interest to the landscape.
This is particularly important because hedges and
hedgerow trees have been in decline and the landscape
is becoming more open.
The remaining semi-natural habitats, including heathland,
water meadows, pastures, riversides, wetlands, small
woodlands and hedgerows are all of great importance
for nature conservation.
Agriculture has made a positive contribution to
the character of the area but, more recently, intensification
of farming has had a significant effect on the landscape,
leading to loss of hedges and hedgerow trees, a
decline in the condition of those that remain and
the loss of unimproved grassland. This continues
to make the landscape more open with larger fields
and fewer trees.
Use of fertilisers is leading to eutrophication
of the rivers and pollution of ground water while
pressure for water abstraction is leading to low
flows in streams and general lowering of the water
table. River management operations have led to loss
of riverside trees, and flood meadows have largely
been lost to agricultural improvement.
Development pressures are significant around
York where there is a particular demand for housing
particularly in nearby villages. Schemes for substantial
residential development continue. Many of the rural
villages are attractive for commuters which can
create demands for new development and emphasises
the need to protect their special character.
Road building and enhancement schemes are
also having an effect and there is particular pressure
for golf course and driving range development, and
for the establishment of garden centres in rural
areas. The volume of traffic in the area, especially
visitor traffic to York and to the coast, has had
a significant impact on the tranquillity of the
There may be scope to enhance this landscape both
by attempting to create new, larger areas of heathland
on appropriate areas of sandy soil.
New tree planting should be appropriate to
the history of the vale and its particularly open
character. Management of the existing scattered
farm woodland should be addressed. The historic
Forest of Galtres provides a good opportunity for
interesting woodland planting.
There is scope for progress in enhancing
the riverine landscape by integrated approaches
to catchment and river corridor management.
Where hedges and hedgerow trees have declined,
restoration and replanting may be appropriate to
improve wildlife habitat and to strengthen landscape
Appropriate design of new development would
ensure that the character of settlements is enhanced.
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